Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Tag, you're it

I think I've found another one. I don't know that I have, but it sure looks like it: another tag.

The first "tag" I ever bumped into had been attached to my great-great grandmother Martha A. Davison Boyd.

I got started in genealogy with the Boyds because it was Martha's daughter Ida and granddaughter Jessie who largely raised my grandmother, so she felt a special closeness to the Boyds and had started her research there. I found a woman doing work on the Boyds and shared information. She told me that Martha's middle name was "Avarilla". I thought "how fun!" and put it in my notes.

A few years later, I found a typescript made by Jessie in 1943 of the family bible, and in a handwritten note at the bottom she said that Martha Davison's middle name was Ann (her middle name wasn't specified in the record, just the initial). I told this to my Fellow Researcher, and she wrote back that she hadn't thought that Martha's middle name was really Avarilla - that a relative had told her it was, but that she didn't think he was a very reliable source, but that she wasn't going to change it in her records because she used it as a "tag", that is to say, she would know if someone was using her work without giving her credit if they had Martha's middle name as "Avarilla".

I was flabbergasted. I'd never heard of such a thing.

But what made it unforgivable (to me) was that once she had access to a more reliable source, she refused to change it! Her "tagging" being more important than the (likely) truth!

As a genealogist it can be so hard to get accurate information that I really couldn't believe what she was saying. She must have felt that same frustration of knowing you were dancing around a 'truth' you couldn't prove. Her work is really good, and she was always very generous with it. A lot of people use it. In fact, I can't find anyone using "Martha Ann", though I cite my source and she did not, but her vast research lends crediblity that I cannot outweigh.

People really should read and cite sources.

But now I may have another.

For years I've dealt with "Jane Telita Cox" and I've been trying to find her in the 1930 census without any luck. I was chatting about her to my husband, about how humorous it was that in every census her first name was different: in 1900, "Jane", in 1910, "Runer? J.", in 1920, "Eurma? J." It was one of the reasons I wanted to find her, to see what name her husband had 'made up' next...then Bill said, "Well, those names are kind of similar, aren't they?"

As he said later, "I thought you got a funny look on your face when I said that..."

I was thinking that I had never seen one record that suggested her name was "Jane Telita" except a family group sheet. Not even "Jane T."

So I sat down immediately to really find her in 1930. I did. I was willing to look at every record in Arkansas in which the first name of the husband was "James", but I didn't have to go that far...they were still in Boone County (the first place I looked).

This time the record was perfectly clear: Arranna J. Ewards (should have been Edwards). Looking at the 1920 census again it looks like "Errana". She had an aunt named Rena (now I'm thinking Arrena?). In any case, clearly the "Telita" (which was her mother's name) is completely wrong.

As I said, I don't know that her middle name was a tag, but I have had some communication with descendants of Janie (as she was apparently called) and they were the first ones to raise the issue with me. Again, the researcher who said her middle name was "Telita" was a good researcher with lots of stuff and she shared it. It lent credibility to her statement, though I had not seen even a "T.", suggesting that she would be on the right track. She certainly hasn't admitted it to me nor refused to change her work (I've lost contact with her), so I don't want to disparage her unfairly. She might really think Jane's middle name was Telita.

In any case, the real lesson is that incredulity is always a good trait in a genealogical researcher...

But you can almost understand the impulse. I can't count the number of times I've seen people use my conclusions as their own without giving me any credit. It doesn't bother me, but it is rude, disingenuous and counter-productive. I always put my sources online, so sometimes people will say that my sources were their sources (though the citation style is clearly the one that I worked out myself). The only accurate way for them to have cited, say, the John H. Brown 1850 Greene Co., TN census record from my notes is to have noted that it had been transcribed by me. They don't.

If people would always state their source not only would other people be able to judge the quality of assertions for themselves, but they would also not feel the urge to 'tag' their work. If you source is your Aunt Judy, put her name (or initials) with it. And the date. If it's a will, put that. And the county it was written in and the date. It will help everyone who works on that line.

Read the sources, people. And put them in your own work.